Kristin Russo and Dannielle Owens-Reid are the co-founders of Everyone Is Gay.com
, an online resource for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. Their new book, This Is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids, is pretty much what the title says: A resource for parents, answering frequently-asked questions about kids who might be questioning their sexual or gender identity.
The authors will visit Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 5
; Russo spoke with City Weekly by phone from California.
Everyone is Gay.com started as resource primarily for gay youth. When did it become apparent that their parents could also benefit from a similar resource?
As with most things in our organization, we listen very carefully to our readers. After a couple of years of engaging with youth, we just realized that the most common question was, “Can you talk to my parents so they can understand my identity?” Kids were saying that their parents were struggling, and didn’t know how to communicate. They were using our videos for opening up conversation. So we did a little research into what was out there, and were surprised to realize there just wasn’t that much that was current and non-clinical.
I was struck by how compassionate the book is towards the emotional struggles a parent might go through during this process. What were the factors that most shaped the tone you chose for the book?
I think Danielle and I approach things with that tone just as a part of who we are. We generally believe that accepting the fact that you have feelings is the first step to working through them. And we also both went through this process with our parents. Neither one of us had experiences that were a walk in the park.
Utah is obviously a state where the demographic includes a conservative religious majority. What do you think is the single most important piece of advice you have for parents of that cultural background wrestling with having an LGBT child?
The biggest thing is never stop loving your child, and never close the door. That’s critical, that’s the key, and that’s how my mom and I were able to get to where we are now. My mom and I had a decade worth of conversation and tears and yelling to get to a place where we both feel okay with our relationship. … [People of faith] who are dealing with these issues, there’s a feeling that you’re “doing something wrong.” The conflict is so deep, and I’m thankful that I have an experience on the inside to understand how deep it really goes. For them, it’s not “I think that you’re going to hell;” it’s “I foundationally know
this is wrong.”
Even since the time you were writing the book, obviously, the cultural landscape of gay rights has changed radically. Has there been a shift in the kind of questions you receive that reflects this evolution?.
There’s this new generation of parents where the thought is, “I accept diversity, I have no problem with them at all, so then when my child comes out, I don’t ask any questions. Because I don’t want anyone to think I have a problem with this.” And it’s natural to have questions. That is something that’s new to me: Feeling that you can’t ask the question because it might signal you’re not progressive enough
I would guess that the nature of a site called Everyone Is Gay shapes the kind of parents who would come to you with questions; you’re probably not going to get the parents who say “How do I make my kids straight?” Does that in any way skew the information you were able to use in compiling the book?.
I think that we knew while writing ... that the parent that’s going to pick up this book, no matter how much they’re hurting, is at least trying to move through that. A parent that’s just not able to take in information isn’t going to pick up this book. So we wrote it for those parents [who are trying]. I still think there’s a lot of work necessary to reach out to the parents who aren’t going to pick up the book or go to the website. It would be a really incredible thing to do more research into those families.
You share a lot information from of your own coming-out stories as anecdotes throughout the book, in addition to anecdotes from other parents and youth. Can you talk about how you balanced those stories?
That was huge for us. There were certain chapters where we felt really comfortable from our own experience, but others where we knew we couldn’t make our own voice. The gender chapter couldn’t be our voice. The parent and child in the book answered those questions for us in a way we’d never presume to do. In the sex chapter, we had a sex expert working with us. In a larger sense, Danielle and I had 15-20 parents and 20-30 youth read the entire manuscript to make sure we hadn’t left out any important questions.
What have you learned yourself in the process of working on this book?
The thing I learned the most is to do the most you can possibly do before you put the information out there. Especially with gender identity section, to do it in a way that was respectful. I know that I put in weeks and months worth of conversations to make sure that it was right. And, always being willing to engage in dialogue: Is there something that doesn’t sit with [readers] correctly, or is there something else we need to know. Like the parents [we’re speaking to], you have to forgive yourself for your missteps.